Twenty migrant workers from Myanmar were killed when their bus caught fire in north-western Thailand on Friday, the police said.
The workers were travelling to a factory district near Bangkok when their chartered bus was engulfed in flames around 1.30 a.m. in Tak Province, the Bangkok Post reported.
The double-decker bus was carrying 47 Myanmar workers, out of which 27 managed to escape the inferno, said Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen, a police spokesman.
The cause of the fire was not yet known, he said. Initial reports said that the engine of the bus suffered a defect and caught fire which spread quickly through the vehicle.
Police said the fire was so intense that identifying the dead would require experts. One officer at the scene told the daily that he could not distinguish between male and female corpses.
The authorities were planning to interview the driver, who survived the fire.
A survivor, Pa Pa Hlaing, described the accident by phone to The Associated Press. She said some passengers had smelled something burning, but went back to sleep because they assumed it was smoke from outside.
“When we were asleep, some people from the back of the bus started shouting and screaming ‘fire, fire’ and as we awoke, the smoke was already filling the bus,” said the 19-year-old from Myanmar. “We couldn’t see anything or breathe. We just tried to get out of the bus as soon as possible. We were just rushing toward the bus door. I don’t even remember how I actually got out of that bus. There were bruises all over my legs as I was just randomly running around. Then, three minutes right after we got out of the bus, the flames just swallowed the bus.”
“All of our clothes were gone on the bus. Some people’s passports were gone too,” said Pa Pa Hlaing, who was in a police station in Tak on Friday afternoon. She said those who had lost their passports would be taken back to a Myanmar border town to get new documents, while those who still had them would go ahead to Bangkok as planned.
Pa Pa Hlaing, who said the passengers had been headed to work at a factory owned by Tomy (Thailand), a Japanese maker of plastic toys, were told “that we would not need to work for a while and we could stay. They will pay us for our clothes and things we need there.”
Most of the survivors had minor injuries but two were hospitalized, said Moe Aung Khine, who works in the office of the labor attache of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. He said his office was trying to inform the families of the victims and make funeral arrangements, as well as negotiate for compensation for the victims.
“We are trying to identify the bodies and also trying to contact the Myanmar Consulate in order to identify the bodies,” Col. Krissana said. “They are Buddhists, so we’ve got to send them back to their hometown for religious ceremonies there.”
The workers who were killed on Friday had passed the lengthy new registration process to work in the country and had legal work permits and permission to be in the country, reports said.
This is the second major double decker bus accident/issue in the past week with multiple deaths, both involving what appear to be lack of regular safety checks and maintaining the vehicle.